Economy & Downtown

Chapel Hill's downtown has long benefited from its proximity to a captive audience of University students without cars. While downtowns around the country have been failing, ours has survived fairly well. However, we have seen an increase in the number of chain stores locating downtown, and instability in the Downtown Economic Development Corporation. In the near future, we will see new Town-directed development on two major parking lots have a big impact.
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Carrboro's downtown has also done better than many towns of comparable size, thanks largely to the presence of Weaver Street Market and progressive shoppers from the rest of the county. The Board of Aldermen has been addressing the evolution of the downtown, and have established a number of community resources in the downtown area including free wireless Internet access, and a low-power radio station.

Glimmers of a more positive chamber

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday August 27, 2005

Last Wednesday, the Chamber of Commerce hosted an event to allow members to react to Chapel Hill's recent increase in the fees for privilege licenses for business. In the face of a crowd that was varyingly confused, frustrated or angry, chamber director Aaron Nelson rose to the occasion and showed some real leadership.

Typical of the comments in the early part of the discussion was the notion that "the town is not friendly to small business" or that "to suggest that this wasn't noticed [by Town Council members] is a bit naïve." But when one business owner asked, "Why were no business leaders part of this decision?" Nelson spoke up.

Nelson acknowledged that he was part of the budget committee that met 20 times over several months and worked with the town's budget consultant. He told attendees that he was an author of the committee's final report which he described as "very sensitive to the business community," adding that "he has never felt better about business interests being represented."

It's not the size, it's how you use it

When it was being built, some neighbors complained about the new 4-story building at 605 West Main Street. So much so that Carrboro is now developing stricter standards for downtown development. A similar building that is now almost finished at the corner of Merritt Mill and West Rosemary Street is a great illustration that a building that size can be very attractive and complimentary to its environment without costing a whole lot. I'd love to hear some discussion of why one looks so much better than then other (besides the obvious: bricks are nicer than vinyl siding).

Also, the Chapel Hill Town Council will have a work session today to continue developing designs for redevelopment of two downtown parking lots. That starts at 5:30 at the Town Hall at 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Reasons not to shop at Wal-Mart

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday July 30, 2005

The prospect of a Wal-Mart in northern Chatham County provides an opportunity to reflect on questions of economics, workers rights and the future of our society. Most importantly, it allows us to contemplate our own ethical responsibilities.

Consider the following: Sexist discrimination is business as usual at Fortune's "most admired corporation." In her book "Selling Women Short," Liza Featherstone documents rampant sexism at Wal-Mart, denial of promotion opportunities to women, underpayment of female employees and the prevalence of exclusive, men-only meetings.

Rather than pay a living wage, Wal-Mart encourages its employees to make ends meet via public assistance programs. Along with their paltry paychecks, Wal-Mart employees receive instruction on how to apply for food stamps, state health insurance for the poor and other welfare programs.

A congressional report found that a 200-employee Wal-Mart costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, an average of $2,103 per employee.

Creative outlets close

Orange County lost two different creative venues this week. You probably heard about the Carolina Theater in downtown Chapel Hill. Last night was their final showing of films. This great loss means even fewer options for alternative films, fewer cozy venues downtown, possibly less locally-owned businesses, and certainly more control over what we see and hear by large multi-screen theater chains.

Today is also the last day of business at the Main Street storefront of Temple Ball Gallery/De La Luz performance space. Although less people were impacted by De La Luz, the performances and other events they hosted were quite unique and not like anything else you could find in town. For example, there are precious few places where a handful of Tibetan Buddhist monks could set up shop for over a week to painstakingly create a sand mandala, where a struggling 'zine publisher could host their Weird Movie Night, and where some incredible jazz, funk, and rock bands could really tear down the house.

Bridge Building, Chamber Style

According to Chapel Hill News Editor, Mark Schultz, Chamber of Commerce Director Aaron Nelson told him that our community is “a place where many people still think if you're a successful business person you're exploiting someone or destroying the environment.” (quote is Schultz paraphrasing Nelson)

Now, according to the Herald editors, I'm the farthest left person they know (a debatable point I suppose) and I don't think that. Nor am I aware of any who hold this belief.

So my question to Aaron is: do you really believe what you said to Schultz? if so, who are some of these "many people" you refer to? Or, did you, like Ed Harrison, inadvertently mislead Schultz and it's not your fault?

My question to Chamber members is: does it really serve your interests and your organization when your director makes such hyperbolic and divisive statements?

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